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Space Technology

Why We'll Never Meet Aliens 629

Posted by Soulskill
from the probably-immigration-laws dept.
iggychaos writes "The idea that aliens will come visit us is fundamentally flawed. Paul Tyma ponders the technology that would be required for such an event and examines how evolution of that technology would preclude any reason to actually make the trip. He writes, 'Twenty years ago if I asked you how many feet were in a mile (and you didn't know) you could go to a library and look it up. Ten years ago, you could go to a computer and google it. Today, you can literally ask your phone. It's not a stretch at all with the advent of wearable computing that coming soon - I can ask you that question and you'll instantly answer. ... How would you change if you had instant brain-level access to all information. How would you change if you were twice as smart as you are now. How about ten times as smart? (Don't answer, truth is, you're not smart enough to know). Now, let's leap ahead and think about what that looks like in 100 years. Or 1000. Or whenever it is you'll think we'd have the technology to travel to another solar system. We'd be a scant remnant of what a human looks like today. ... The question of why aliens might 'want to come here' is probably fundamentally flawed because we are forming that question from our current (tiny) viewpoint. The word 'want' might not apply at all to someone 1000 times smarter than us."
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Why We'll Never Meet Aliens

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  • Why is this here? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 26, 2013 @03:01PM (#43560017)

    I mean seriously, If i wanted this I would talk to my friend on mushrooms. This is not new in any sense of the word.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 26, 2013 @03:02PM (#43560035)

    "We have no idea how supertechnologically enhanced superscientific aliens would think. THEREFORE, we can be sure that we'll never meet any aliens. Because we don't understand anything of their thought processes. So we can say with certainty they won't find it logical to make the trip."

  • lame (Score:3, Insightful)

    by HPHatecraft (2748003) on Friday April 26, 2013 @03:05PM (#43560053)

    The question of why aliens might 'want to come here' is probably fundamentally flawed because we are forming that question from our current (tiny) viewpoint. The word 'want' might not apply at all to someone 1000 times smarter than us.

    Who cut the cheese? This can so easily be turned on it's head. It would be just as easy to posit that said aliens, because of their intelligence and enlightened nature, have made it their life's purpose to seek out primitive cultures and assist in their evolution.

    Or seek out life forms and destroy their plants. Sort of the galactic equivalent of driving down the highway and shooting road signs. Highly populated, spherical road signs, with significant mass (and gravity).

  • Bacteria (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 26, 2013 @03:05PM (#43560055)

    We aliens are spending tons of money to find really stupid (no intelligence) bacteria on Mars. Why wouldn't some super smart aliens want to find us?

    Skimmed TFA - not worth more of my time.

    Going back down to that STEM article ..

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 26, 2013 @03:08PM (#43560103)

    Just as you can't predict how you would be different if you were twice as smart as you are now, or determine the desires or an alien 1000 times smarter than us, it is silly to decide that a god (in whatever form you like) most likely does not exist simply because he/she/it doesn't run the universe in a way that makes sense to you. Everyone is free to believe what they will about God's existence, but to pretend that a projected value judgement is the same as logic is not a valid approach.

    Just sayin' (to no one specific)

  • by Alcoholic Synonymous (990318) on Friday April 26, 2013 @03:10PM (#43560143)
    How can we ever understand how aliens think if we have articles like this making our entire species dumber by the letter?
  • by HaZardman27 (1521119) on Friday April 26, 2013 @03:15PM (#43560227)
    Based on how horrible we as humans can be as a collective, that may have already happened ;)
  • by TheRealMindChild (743925) on Friday April 26, 2013 @03:19PM (#43560273) Homepage Journal
    The saddest part is the self contradiction:

    How would you change if you had instant brain-level access to all information. How would you change if you were twice as smart as you are now. How about ten times as smart? (Don't answer, truth is, you're not smart enough to know)

    Then tells us how THEY know
  • 3 reasons (Score:5, Insightful)

    by dpilot (134227) on Friday April 26, 2013 @03:21PM (#43560305) Homepage Journal

    1 - Curiosity - Maybe they can predict us, but what are untested predictions worth. Think Doc Smith's Arisians and their "Visualization of the Cosmic All." They still needed Samms' lens on-site to test their prediction.
    2 - Charity - Arguably we could certainly use some assistance.
    3 - Boredom - When you've solved that many problems, and when you've run out of "Gilligan's Isolated Stellar Cluster" reruns, you need something to do.

    Really, we have no idea how rare the Earth is - or isn't, and that would affect the likelihood of being investigated by a more advanced type of life. We've been finding planets in the Goldilocks belt, and some of those are nearly Earth-sized. But at the same time we're learning more about how critical Jupiter and the Moon are to our development, so OUR requirements were actually quite complex, not that that needs to be universal.

    But the rarer the circumstances for intelligent life to develop, the more likely it gets that we will be investigated. That assumes that that puts us in the bucket of "interesting things", and that that bucket is smaller than it would be if the galaxy were teeming with life.

    I do have to agree with the article's assertion and reasons that there won't be an invasion force. If there were to be any hostile actions by aliens, it would almost have to be xenophobic fear - get us before we get the technology to get them. If that were the case, we'd never see an invasion force - comets and asteroids are much simpler, easier, cheaper, less risky, and at least as effective.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 26, 2013 @03:32PM (#43560437)

    Actually, the saddest part is that people think computers make people smarter. In truth, computers make people less smart due to not requiring to know as much nor be able to process as much information.

    i.e. "Just Google it."

  • No (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Giant Electronic Bra (1229876) on Friday April 26, 2013 @04:06PM (#43560899)

    And we don't need ANY arguments about what such beings would be like in order to understand that there is nothing unique here to want. The Solar System is composed of approximately 99.95% hydrogen and helium. This is basically the same as the composition of the rest of the Universe. While some elements may be slightly more common or concentrated in slightly more convenient forms in one place than another there simply isn't anything particularly unique in one star system that isn't present in another.

    Furthermore look at the energetics of interstellar space travel. "Accelerating one ton to one-tenth of the speed of light requires at least 450 PJ or 4.5 ×10^17 J or 125 billion kWh, without factoring in efficiency of the propulsion mechanism. This energy has to be either generated on-board from stored fuel, harvested from the interstellar medium, or projected over immense distances." -- Wikipedia. In 2008 the world used roughly 474×10^18 J, which means the entire power output of the human race for a year would suffice to accelerate one starship of 40 tons to 0.1C, roughly. This is about the weight of the 'J' class Apollo Lunar mission payload (LEM, CM, SM, etc). Clearly even the most limited interstellar travel would have an energy cost that is frankly hard to imagine.

    So, considering the enormous cost and the high degree of technology required to traverse interstellar space, why bother? Certainly it can never be economical. The energy costs quoted above indicate that even the most expensive conceivable processes for making things would be cheaper (IE using solar power to perform nuclear reactions to transmute one element into whatever other ones you need and then make whatever you want out of it) than traveling to where you can find something.

    Clearly a civilization could in principle literally consume all matter in its vicinity. It is hard to imagine how this would lead to expansion for economic reasons though, there'd never be any hope of getting a return on your investment.

    Obviously someone can always invent some new hypothesis as to why, for reasons of alien psychology, aliens would want to travel, but nobody knows squat about alien psychology, so there's really no point in debating it. The very fact that such an undertaking would be VAST in scope, significant even for a Kardeshev level 2 civilization indicates it wouldn't be carried out on some whim, and it seems unlikely that a civilization which spent its energy so profligately on whims would survive long.

    I know it isn't a real popular opinion to hold, but everything I see indicates that interstellar distances are pretty close to uncrossable for physical beings like humans. Frankly I think that is the plain answer to the whole Fermi Paradox that people just don't really want to come to grips with. The gulfs between the stars are so wide that nobody crosses them, EVER.

  • by dhasenan (758719) on Friday April 26, 2013 @04:32PM (#43561249)

    "Well sir, we've pretty much exhausted the available resources around this star, and worse, the star's going to go nova soon."

    "The Kuiper belt?"

    "Mined out fifty thousand years ago."

    "The Oort cloud?"

    "Slim pickings. At the current rate, we've got enough for another century at the outside."

    "Dammit, you've got to give me something!"

    "Well, there *are* other stars..."

    "Don't be ridiculous, it takes resources to get there."

  • by electron sponge (1758814) on Friday April 26, 2013 @04:35PM (#43561283)

    Humans taste about the same as pigs. I wouldn't call that the finest delicacy.

    Bacon comes from pigs. Pigs are fucking delicious.

  • by Mattcelt (454751) on Friday April 26, 2013 @04:40PM (#43561361)

    Sorry to be pedantic, but unless I missed it, you pointed out only potentially factual errors in the original, not any logical fallacies. So while it certainly raises some questions, it does not "beg" any in your example. (Though I think a thorough analysis of TFA's original premise could find some petitio principii in the author's logic.)

    Here is a good explanation of why that is so. []

  • Re:No (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Giant Electronic Bra (1229876) on Friday April 26, 2013 @04:47PM (#43561477)

    I'm simply explicating the SCALE of the power requirements for interstellar travel, which are clearly huge. It has NOTHING to do with the universe being "made of energy", it has to do with the amount of power you have available to you to use. By your reasoning the Earth is "made of energy" and thus the human race has no energy problem, right?

    I answered what? Read it again. The Solar System is made up of nothing but hydrogen and helium basically, with a minor impurity of C, O, N, and a very minor contamination of other atoms. Every other system is made of that stuff too. As the author of the original blog pointed out, if you have the tech to cross interstellar space, then you clearly can simply make whatever you want out of what you have at home.

    Yes, you could run out of matter, but do you realize how incredibly hard that would be? Jupiter has 1000x the mass of Earth. In fact Earth is a very tiny fraction of the mass of all the planets. By the time you were running out you'd be at Kardeshev level 2 (10+ orders of magnitude beyond using all the energy on Earth, which is many orders of magnitude beyond us), would you really need to GO anywhere for more? It seems kinda unlikely, and again would be a bad investment (you'd never get the energy invested back).

  • by Hamsterdan (815291) on Friday April 26, 2013 @05:25PM (#43561891)

    Depends on people I guess. For some of us, it actually makes people more knowledgeable . I learned a heck lot more researching designs for my OTA antenna system just by lurking in forums and reading Wikis for a month than in my whole RF Communications year back in CEGEP. My library network only has *one* book on antenna design for the whole Montreal island, and it's been rented out for at least 2 weeks now...

    But for most users, I tend to agree.

  • by Myria (562655) on Friday April 26, 2013 @05:59PM (#43562167)

    I know it isn't a real popular opinion to hold, but everything I see indicates that interstellar distances are pretty close to uncrossable for physical beings like humans. Frankly I think that is the plain answer to the whole Fermi Paradox that people just don't really want to come to grips with. The gulfs between the stars are so wide that nobody crosses them, EVER.

    I think that the biggest scientific discoveries coming this century will be about what we can't do. We'll progress significantly in applied sciences such as medicine, but in physics, we'll likely prove the impossibility of many things of which we dream.

    Many of us like science fiction stories, but the reality is that they are not dreams of the future - they are merely a modern type of fantasy. We keep dreaming of the stars even when it's impossible. Unless we find a mass relay embedded in Charon.

  • Re:No (Score:4, Insightful)

    by chihowa (366380) on Friday April 26, 2013 @06:28PM (#43562419)

    He's not predicting that FTL, etc will be possible. He's saying that you're wrong for declaring it to be absolutely impossible.

    Seriously, all of those things he listed would be described as "the sort of 'technology' required is simply magic and can't exist" in the past, yet they came about. The reality is that we don't know what's possible and making sweeping statements like yours is just a sign of hubris and ignorance. You can wrap your mind around the concept that not knowing how something can be possible doesn't mean it's absolutely impossible and making categorical statements like yours only paints you as a fool?

  • by steelfood (895457) on Friday April 26, 2013 @07:35PM (#43562929)

    The premise of the summary is fatally flawed in and of itself. It starts by equating the accessibility and breadth of knowledge to intelligence, and special* intelligence at that. In making the assumption, it posits that a species with greater intelligence would not be interested in the same things that species with lower intelligence would.

    To begin with, knowledge and intelligence are two very different domains. Having greater knowledge is not equivalent to possessing greater intellectual ability, and it is an even further stretch to equate it with special intelligence. Yes, greater intelligence implies greater breadth of knowledge, but this is true only individually. And the relationship between the two is an implication, not an equivalence.

    Secondly, there is nothing indicative in our historical (we know our history, right?) record to even remotely indicate that we as a species has grown more intelligent over time. In fact, I would argue that the distribution of intelligence among the popuplation today is the same as (or even skewed in the negative direction) 500 years ago, 1000 years ago, 5000 years ago, and 10,000 years ago. The local maxima and minima with respect to time are also unchanged. What's changed in the past 500 years that resulted in the exponential progress of our society is a sudden stability in our record-keeping ability, which has lead to us collectively retain more knowledge, and disseminate this knowledge more easily. Essentially, we as a species are not reinventing the wheel all the time, and thus we can spend our time progressing other aspects of our lives.

    Thus as the premise itself is false with regards to the human species, the remainder does not follow. Now, to extrapolate this to supposedly alien beings would be an incredible stretch either way. In fact, I would go as far as to say that attempting to do so would be entering the realm of theology, i.e. unsubstantiated, even ignorant speculation. You might as well say that we will never make contact with aliens because the FSM is keeping them away, and be just about as accurate.

    * read, speci-al, or pertaining to the species.

  • Re:No (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Giant Electronic Bra (1229876) on Saturday April 27, 2013 @10:04AM (#43566933)

    Yeah, I think the various AC's that have responded already have summarized things nicely, to reiterate:

    1) FTL is LOGICALLY impossible. This is off the table. We may not fully understand the way the universe works but we have logically demonstrated that either there is FTL and no causality and no common universal laws of physics which apply within every reference frame equally (IE the laws of physics would change whenever you accellerated) or FTL is impossible. No appeal to "we don't know enough, we're ignorant" can get around this, Einstein did not leave ANY 'get out of jail free card' ways to get around it. No, not wormholes, they'd break down causality too, nor the 'Alcubierre Drive' which ALSO breaks down causality, etc. You can try to assume there are some sort of parallel worlds or something you can access via some handwavium tech, but frankly why not just posit that the right ritual enacted at the right phase of the Moon will open a door into Elfland? Nobody can EVER 'prove' such things don't exist, but you care to bet?

    2) As for the "well, things always seem difficult until we do them", I would just like to point out what the 2nd AC said "...if it's at all possible, represents an intellectual and operational barrier an order of magnitude higher than anything mankind has encountered so far." except said AC is wrong in one sense. It isn't AN order of magnitude harder. All the list of things that were listed by JWSmythe above are maybe an order of magnitude, at most, harder than things that were done before them. Going from being able to travel to Mars to being able to travel to Alpha Centauri in something even roughly like the same time frame (IE less than a decades long journey) with a human crew is 12 orders of magnitude harder. Not ONE but TWELVE.

    That's the thing people regularly fail to understand. They've been brought up on a steady diet of space opera/Star Trek where starships woosh around through space like its nothing and a trip to the next star system is like a jaunt to the next highway exit. THAT is surely fantasy. Even if some sort of FTL, or something nearly as good, proved to exist it would perforce have to be incredibly difficult to achieve, else natural phenomena would already exist which recapitulated the necessary phenomena for us to observe. The energies required must be beyond even what is achieved in the presence of billion solar mass black holes and such. No hint of such things is evident.

    Perhaps our Universe was created by a prankster. It certainly seems like the limitations we face are such that the promise of surmounting them must always seem barely out of reach, but I think the prankster did a good job.

Nature, to be commanded, must be obeyed. -- Francis Bacon